As for geographic distribution, CSA farms were present in nearly 2,100 counties according to the 2007 Ag Census.

If you raise cattle, you are in good company with the ag sector that is most likely to sell direct-to-retail; three out of five cattle producers use that marketing channel. If you don’t see some kind of consumer demand-based agriculture, you’re not looking, or maybe you see it and don’t know it.

That illustrates a big part of the problem — we don’t have a name to call this trend of interrelated agricultural marketing channels that centers on the emergence of retail consumer demand as a driving factor.

More farmers and ranchers are getting closer to their customers, and finding they can capture a higher margin when they grow vegetable or meat products with a specific consumer market segment in mind.

Whether they sell direct-to-retail or through wholesale channels, if it is sold with special product attributes such as being local, organic or small farm-raised, then a significant portion of the value is based on retail consumer demand. Let’s name it “Retail Agriculture.”

Retail Agriculture is analogous to “Small Business,” which is also a term that describes a wide variety of very different businesses in order to allow effective policy discussion. We can talk about “the role of Small Business in new job formation” and nobody blinks an eye at the idea of lumping sole proprietors with corporations of 500 employees — both fitting into the generalized definition.

Retail Agriculture is a shorthand way to talk about this subject in agricultural policy discussions. We need the term “Retail Agriculture” as we describe its modest yet growing economic significance, its capacity to provide opportunities for lower cost entry into agriculture and its relevance to the future.

Gary Matteson is a guest contributor to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Focus on Agriculture. He is vice-president of Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach at the Farm Credit Council, a trade association of the Farm Credit System. Read more on “The Emergence of Retail Agriculture: Its Outlook, Capital Needs, and Role in Supporting Young, Beginning, and Small Farmers,” by Alan R. Hunt and Gary Matteson at (http://fccouncil.com/ybs/).